HANCOCK — Workers who arrived from Florida to help with the blueberry harvest are quarantined at a facility in Bangor after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday, said Andrew Sankey, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, in an email on Wednesday afternoon.
“As reported by media sources following the Maine CDC briefing on Tuesday afternoon,” wrote Sankey, “migrant workers from Florida arrived in Hancock County in support of the coming blueberry harvest. Testing of these persons was performed on-site by the Maine Mobile Health Program (a component of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services) with five positive cases being identified. Subsequently, these five individuals, as well as all other migrant passengers were relocated later on Monday to a facility in Bangor, whereby they remain to quarantine, receive shelter, and other related care needs.”
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported the five positive cases on Tuesday at a briefing but offered few details, saying only that there had been five cases among workers at Hancock Foods. Tax records and previous reporting in The Ellsworth American indicated that the blueberry processing plant, located off Washington Junction Road near the Ellsworth-Hancock town line, is owned by Allen’s Blueberries.
Sankey said in his email that “The presence of migrant agricultural workers is a routine, annual occurrence in Hancock County, as is the employment of many other seasonal, foreign-sourced workers to assist with our region’s tourism service sector needs. As we are fast approaching the beginning of the blueberry harvest and processing season, it is to be anticipated we will see additional arrivals of migrant workers, some of which, upon screening, may also result in a positive COVID-19 test.”
Dr. Shah said on Tuesday that the five positive cases associated with the Hancock Foods outbreak (which the CDC defines as “as three or more epidemiologically linked cases”) would be included in case counts the next day.
The state of residence of the workers has not been publicly disclosed, but five cases were added to Hancock County’s tally on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 23 that day. Maine CDC policy has been to tally cases in a person’s state of residence, meaning out-of-state residents who test positive while in Maine are not included in Maine counts.
Sankey said he has “inquired as to why, as remains the requirement for other visitors to Maine from some locations, the migrants were neither tested prior to arrival, nor the 14-day quarantine period provisioned. I also am seeking clarification as to why those testing positive are being listed statistically as being Hancock County residents, in contrast with past practice in all other cases, to-date. Regardless [of] the answers, we all remain focused upon the wellbeing of all persons, be they seasonal or year-round residents of Hancock County, as well as our temporary regional guests.”
Sankey also said that “I’ve heightened sensitivity to any statements that may unintentionally cause confusion or otherwise somehow have an adverse consequence to the entirety of our business community, already under untoward economic pressures brought about by this season’s irregularities due to COVID-19. This especially extends to our hospitality, retail, agricultural and fishing communities. We continue to receive guidance from Maine CDC and draw upon our pandemic planning to ensure we and all our public health and public safety partners are following best practices to keep COVID-19 a minimum risk here in Hancock County.”